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Stormy Daniels, the doorman and a 2024 trial: The Trump indictment top takeaways

Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts related to hush money payments.

Donald Trump was arraigned Tuesday on 34 felony charges relating to hush money payments surrounding the 2016 election.

Trump pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer Todd Blanche told reporters the charges were "what we expected," but the court filings from the Manhattan district attorney's office did include some surprises.

Here are some highlights and key takeaways from the indictment and the arraignment:

The charges

Trump was hit with 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, a class E felony in New York. Each charge carries a maximum of four years in prison, which in most cases would be served concurrently. Legal analysts have said it is unlikely Trump would serve any prison time.

The charge can be a misdemeanor in New York, but it's raised to a felony level if the act was committed to cover up a crime, which is what prosecutors allege happened. Each count accuses Trump of having acted "with intent to defraud and intent to commit another crime and aid and conceal the commission thereof."

Live updates: Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony charges

But nowhere in the indictment did Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg say what the other crime was. Much of the legal speculation about the case had centered on that, leaving legal pundits still wanting more information.

Asked about the omission at a post-arraignment news conference, Bragg contended the law doesn't require him to outline that part of his legal theory in the indictment.

But he did offer a small preview, saying his prosecutors would make the case the false statements were to conceal violations of state and federal election laws and to cover up other false statements.

Starring role for Stormy Daniels

Each count has to do with payments made to former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who was being repaid for the $130,000 he paid adult film star Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about her alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

Trump has denied that he slept with Daniels, but he has acknowledged repaying Cohen. His attorneys have said he signed off on the payments because he didn't want to upset his wife by having the allegations become public.

Bragg said the true reason Trump “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records" was to hide "damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

Other hush money payments

While the charges in the indictment focus on the Daniels/Cohen payments, a "statement of facts" filed alongside the indictment outlines two other hush money payments ahead of the election, indicating they're a part of the “intent to defraud and intent to commit another crime and aid and conceal the commission thereof.”

In court, prosecutor Chris Conroy said the scheme began in August 2015, when "the defendant agreed with others to carry out an unlawful plan to identify and suppress negative information that could have undermined his candidacy for president."

The statement of fact identifies one of those others as David Pecker, then the CEO of National Enquirer’s publisher, AMI. It says Pecker told Cohen "he would act as the 'eyes and ears' for the campaign by looking out for negative stories about the Defendant" and alerting Cohen before they were published.

The doorman

The filing says that a couple of months later, Pecker "learned that a former Trump Tower doorman was trying to sell information regarding a child that the Defendant had allegedly fathered out of wedlock."

"AMI negotiated and signed an agreement to pay the Doorman $30,000 to acquire exclusive rights to the story" and "falsely characterized this payment in AMI’s books and records, including in its general ledger."

When the company later concluded that "the story was not true, the AMI CEO wanted to release the Doorman from the agreement."

Cohen persuaded him not to do so until after the election, the court filing said.

Prosecutors made it clear that what they say was an effort to try to deceive voters ahead of the 2016 election is central to their case. So while the payments to the doorman might not have been the focus of any of the charges, prosecutors could be trying to establish a pattern.

The model

The company also alerted Trump's team to claims being made by a woman who said she'd had an affair with the married Trump in 2006, a Playboy model named Karen McDougal.

"The Defendant did not want this information to become public because he was concerned about the effect it could have on his candidacy," the filing said.

AMI paid McDougal $150,000 "in exchange for her agreement not to speak out about the alleged sexual relationship," prosecutors allege. "AMI falsely characterized this payment in AMI’s books and records, including in its general ledger," the filing said.

Pecker discussed the deal with Trump and Cohen, and there was an understanding that either Trump or his company would later reimburse AMI, the filing said. AMI's lawyer shot the plan down later, according to the filing.

Art of the delayed deal

The statement of facts alleges that Trump directed Cohen to delay making the payment to Daniels for "as long as possible."

"He instructed Lawyer A (Cohen) that if they could delay the payment until after the election, they could avoid paying altogether, because at that point it would not matter if the story became public," the court filing said.

The strategy didn't work. "Ultimately, with pressure mounting and the election approaching, the Defendant agreed to the payoff and directed Lawyer A to proceed," the filing said.

Including that detail could signal an effort by the prosecutors to undermine a Trump defense. When the payments first became public, his allies argued he wasn't trying to hide an affair he denied from the voters but instead to avoid upsetting his wife, Melania Trump.

Show of thanks

Trump showed his appreciation to Pecker after he was elected to the White House, the court filing says.

"Between Election Day and Inauguration Day, during the period of the Defendant’s transition to his role as President, the Defendant met with the AMI CEO privately in Trump Tower in Manhattan. The Defendant thanked the AMI CEO for handling the stories of the Doorman and Woman 1, and invited the AMI CEO to the Inauguration," the filing said. Trump later invited him to dinner at the White House "to thank him for his help during the campaign." 

Pressure campaign

The statement of facts points to Trump's efforts to keep Cohen from cooperating with federal investigators while they were investigating Cohen for a variety of crimes, including violating federal campaign laws with the hush money payments. That included telling Cohen in a phone call to "stay strong."

Cohen later pleaded guilty.

No gag order

In court, prosecutors complained about a series of inflammatory social media posts about the case, including one in which Trump warned of "potential death and destruction" if he was indicted.

"These comments and posts have led to extensive public safety measures' being put into place by a number of law enforcement agencies around the city, including here at the courthouse starting several weeks ago," Conroy told the judge.

Blanche, the Trump lawyer, said his client was "frustrated" by the allegations and was merely exercising his First Amendment rights.

Judge Juan Merchan noted that Trump is running for president, "so those First Amendment rights are critically important, obviously."

He urged both sides to "please refrain from making comments or engaging in conduct that has the potential to incite violence, create civil unrest or jeopardize the safety or well-being of any individuals."

Wheels of justice move slowly

The next hearing isn’t expected until December, and the case isn’t expected to go to trial until next year.

Prosecutors told the judge they were hoping for a January trial, but Trump's lawyer suggested that was too soon.

"We think later in the spring next year might be more realistic, a more realistic plan at this point, but I'm speculating a bit," Blanche said.